The Educators' War on the Working Class
They say that capitalism is the deadliest threat to poor Americans. But that's not true -- it's actually Big Education.
We are constantly told that educators are "dedicated" to improving the lives of students and that a good education opens the door to a good career and financial success. But while this rhetoric may have been true at one time, in the last ten years the economic reality of property taxes and student loan debt are starting to overcome the positives. Educators may now be the greatest source of financial hardship faced by middle-class and poor working Americans.
The public education system of America is a vast, efficiently organized network reaching from the largest cities to the smallest rural areas. The bonds that hold this network together include membership in the two largest education unions -- the American Federal of Teachers and the National Education association -- and the bonds they have to the National Democratic Party. The bonds to the DNC are made of money.
The size of these unions is impressive: the American Federation of Teachers has 1.5 million members in over 3,000 local affiliates nationwide. The Center for Responsive Politics records that they give campaign money primarily, and almost exclusively, to Democrats. They give zero percent to Republicans. The National Education Association is twice as large and is the number-four all-time contributor to national campaigns. It gives only four percent of its campaign money to support Republicans. It has nearly three million members in more than 14,000 school districts nationwide.
So it's fair to say that American educators overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. In return, Democrats in all major states pass extremely lucrative salary and pension plans for educators.
The high salaries, benefits, and pensions going to educators have created two sources of indebtedness to working Americans. Local K-12 districts are supported primarily through district property taxes, while universities are funded through state taxes and student loan debt. Sixty percent of students have student loans. And student loan debt is currently about one trillion dollars. This amount has quadrupled from what it was in 2003.
The Tax Foundation reports that the average home property tax bill in Cook County, the major source of money for K-12 school districts, was $4,015. This was up 27% from just five years before. The Cato Institute reports that up to one-third of the average tax bill goes to pay for K-12 schools. In where I lived in Cook County, Illinois, half of the property tax bill went to educators. The three cities that spend the most on students are Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago, traditional Democratic strongholds.
To see how these two sources of debt impact the average middle-class budget, consider that in 2012, the average student loan was $24,301. With Stafford loans, a student with $25,000 in loans has a monthly student loan payment of $288; additionally, if he is able to purchase a home, he pays $335 minimum a month in property taxes in Cook County. If a married couple both went to college, their monthly student loan/tax bill is a total of $911 per month. The property tax increases were made possible through the inflation of home values in the 2000s. But while home values have since declined, property tax revenues going to educators have not declined commensurately.
In Chicago, the average retired teacher receives a pension of $3,871. Their salaries are paid by taxes imposed on all residents of the City of Chicago, whether they own homes or rent.
The U. of Illinois administrators receive the highest pensions in the state, far more than the retired state representatives or state senators. Of the top 100 public pensions received by public employees in Illinois, all 100 go to educators. The top pension is now $512,964 per year, paid to Dr. Winnie, a retired anesthesiology professor. The average working anesthesiologist is paid $348,000 per year. There are three other retired educators who are paid $400,000 per year in their pensions.
It is interesting to note that the cutoff for "one-percenters" nationally is an income of $250,000 per year. There are an additional 25 education pensioners in Illinois who earn $250,000 or more a year, yet no "one-percenter" protesters demonstrate outside the main Administration Building of the U. of Illinois. Michael Moore is nowhere to be found. In fact, these retirees receive automatic "cost of living" increases of 2% per year. This, coupled with other public employee raises at the state universities, forces tuitions up 2% to 3% per year.
Consequently, students must borrow more and work more to maintain the one-percenter lifestyles of both working and retired university administrators. It may be difficult for those who protested the top one-percenters on Wall Street to justify how middle-class students should pay the cost of living increases for those already making $250,000 per year. But, following the major media outlets, they support government greed and complain only about corporate greed.
So the federal government subsidizes, through the student loan programs, the high university salaries and pensions received by its campaign contributors -- a win-win situation for everyone but the working class. This while public university professors endlessly repeat the Marxist rhetoric that only big corporations exploit the workers.
If oil companies were subsidized by Republicans in this way, liberal media commentators would complain about exploitive quid-pro-quo corruption. But because Democrats do it, and they portray themselves as helping the working class, few complain.
While teachers constantly remind taxpayers that they deserve their pensions because of their lifetime of dedication, the issue of why students deserve decades of debt to support the luxury-level pensions of teachers needs to be confronted and resolved. And when everyone in an area has to pay higher property taxes, everyone's disposable income shrinks. This shrinks demand for consumer items and puts downward pressure on incomes. In the long run, this larger macroeconomic effect impacts the best-educated as well. In fact, we may well be seeing the effects today.
Those who assert that capitalism is at war with the middle class must understand the distinction between purchasing a luxury car and being forced to pay higher property taxes under threat of losing a home. Property taxes and student loan debt are both created by educators, not corporations. And citizens have no choice in this debt. One can choose not to get a student loan, but one is forced by law to pay property taxes. And since it is very difficult to get a good-paying job without a college education, student loan debt is not entirely a choice. The amount of the loan debt, however, is the choice of the one-percenter administrators.
Ever-increasing property tax levels and student loan debt prove that liberal ideas promoted by educators have the effect of making them rich while exploiting working-class Americans. What adds insult to injury is that educators constantly preach that a college education is the best route working-class students can pursue to lift themselves up and escape the exploitation and oppression created by capitalism.